Saturday, May 2, 2015

Estate Clean Out

Cleaning out a loved one's estate can be like a trip from heartache to headache and back. It's an emotional task at an emotional time, and the more organized you are, the smoother the process.  A Will designates financial and property distribution, but a house or condo's contents may not be called out item by item, and it needs to be cleaned out piece by piece. 

An early evaluation can determine how much help is needed. Family members may want to put sticky notes on items they especially want.  For family too far to travel, snapping photos for e-mail lets them see what's there that might be of interest. 

Going through everything is imperative as people stick things like cash in the freezer, an heirloom diamond ring in a vase, stock certificates in a book and so on.  There are many people who can help from a neighborhood teen, church friends, professional organizers and cleaning people, liquidators, appraisers and Bin There Dump That for dumpster rental service. 

Here are few suggestions to keep in mind:

  • Change the locks and forward the mail.
  • Remove papers like bank statements, insurance policies, deeds, titles and tax returns.
  • Enlist trustworthy help to sift through clothes, closets, cupboards and drawers with instructions on setting things out for your review before donation, trash or keep.
  • Tackle the home room by room. There's a sense of accomplishment when one room becomes vacant except for furnishings, and that in turn produces encouragement.
  • Memories are more important than tangible things, so take lots of photos of a lamp or mirror or chair which holds special meaning to put into a family history book or CD. Scan documents, tickets and small mementos.
  • Most clothes, except vintage (prior to 1960s), leather and upscale hold little value. Some thrift shops have free pick up service for unwanted but usable clothes and furniture. 
  • Hire an appraiser for antiques, jewelry, coins and other potential valuables. Check the American Society of Appraisers ( membership list; there are more than 100 in Florida with ASA after their names. ASA = Accredited Senior Appraiser. 
  • Consider buying a copy of "How to Clean Out Your Parents' Estate in 30 Days or Less, a solution-based guide to emptying the home without losing your mind," by Julie Hall.

Once things are sorted, shipped, removed, placed in the dumpster rental or taken to consignment and thrift stores, a liquidator can clear out all the rest.   Again, go professional -- this is an industry ripe for rip-off.   The American Society of Estate Liquidators offers information on its training and designations.   Some liquidators request payment for the work; others take it for free; and still more pay you if there is significant re-sale value. 

Hire a professional cleaning company to prepare property for sale or rent. 

You can find local resources from afar simply by asking the secretary at the attorney's office (who handles the Will), a Realtor, Chamber of Commerce, friends, neighbors and the good folks at Bin There Dump That.  A reliable company with an excellent reputation only recommends others with the same levels of integrity, compassion and dependability. 

Take breaks all along the way, even if you are on a tight time schedule. Stop for coffee. Walk away for lunch.  Sit on a box and remember something funny.  Embrace the memories and the good times, even if cleaning out an estate is not among them.  With assistance and a positive attitude, you can rise to the occasion with grace.  

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